- Mr. Sandeep More
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A panda invasion of sorts has begun across the country to encourage Australians to visit China
Ten panda-themed campervans are travelling 30,000 kilometres around the country for the next two months.
The Panda Explorer journey has been organised by China's National Tourist Office.
Luo Weijian, the director of the China National Tourist Office in Australia and New Zealand, said he hoped the event would encourage more Australians to visit China for a holiday.
"We are sending the panda vans to travel along the Australian coast, so we hope the exposure of the panda van will have more opportunities to let local people know about the tourist attractions of China," he said.
More than 700,000 Australians visit China every year and the tour is part of the 2017 China-Australia Year of Tourism.
Mr Luo said the Panda Explorers would promote China to Australians, especially in regional areas such as Broome on the north-west coast, as the campervans travel around the country.
"We still see this market has lots of potential ... especially for people in some areas other than Sydney and Melbourne, to know more about China as a tourist destination," Mr Luo said.
He agreed that Chinese tour operators needed to do more to attract more Australian visitors and said his office planned to ramp up its marketing efforts.
"We have lots to do to achieve that goal. We definitely will be working harder to figure out more events, to let more Australian people know more about China," he said.
China looks set to overtake New Zealand as Australia's biggest tourism market, with more than 1.2 million Chinese visitors to our shores over the year to February.
Tourism Australia's chairman, Tony South, said he hoped the Panda Explorers would also help the local tourism industry.
"As these vans do their 30,000 kilometres around Australia as is planned, those messages and the images and the adventures that the drivers and the others that are going with it experience will be broadcast loud [and] wide ... in China," Mr South said.
That is despite criticisms the local industry was not doing enough to attract Chinese visitors.
Helen Wong is a pioneer of the Australian tourism industry.
Her company Helen Wong's Tours was the first Australian travel agent to set up an office in China.
Despite the influx of Chinese visitors to Australia, Ms Wong said there were not enough services like luxury hotel rooms during peak times or Chinese-speaking tour guides.
"It is not enough at all to meet with the demand and the tourism arrivals from China," she said.
"Hotel facilities is something that cannot happen immediately but if we don't plan it now, in five years' time imagine, we cannot cope with the demand."
Mr South said Tourism Australia was pressing on with its strategy to boost spending by Chinese tourists to $13 billion a year by 2020.
However, the Tourism Australia chairman admitted there were some problems.
Mr South said hotel development started earlier in the other Australian cities and Melbourne and Sydney were now catching up.
"We're at a point in the cycle where all the ingredients that need to be in place to stimulate hotel development are there, including a relatively low cost of money, and we'll see more hotels being built in Sydney."
He dismissed concerns that Australia could miss out on the Chinese tourist boom because it was not ready.
"The positive is that people will, by compulsion almost, have to explore the rest of Australia and that's one of the things we really want to see happen," Mr South said.
China National Tourist Office director, Luo Weijian, agreed that Australia's tourism industry needed to lift its game, but said he thought Tourism Australia was on the case.
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